Written in May 2020, a few lifetimes ago
When I gave birth a surprising amount of otherwise completely rational people would say the most irrational things to me. Especially prevalent was the fallacy that just because I created this human I would instinctively know what they needed at all times. That each squeak or squirm or gurgle was a cipher only I could decode.
But I had nothing. Nothing innate arrived when my daughter did. Everything I learned about her squeaks and grunts and jagged mountain goat cries I learned through “guess and check” or “change and hope” or “feed and weep.”
She conditioned me that a strained grunt was usually followed by a poopy diaper. It wasn’t innate, I just guessed and checked. Then we fixed and wiped. I’m not saying no moms have it — the spidey sense to know exactly which snack will hit the spot for their kids, how to get them to sleep in one well-chosen book, or the keen eye to spot illness the night before the 3 a.m. tearful ear infection wake-up — I just didn’t get it right away. I still don’t really have it. Everything I know about how my daughters are feeling comes from observational experience not my innate connection to them. Whenever something new would work, I’d add it to the toolbox of solutions. Each issue that came up — teething, talking, understanding wanting ice cream doesn’t mean ice cream appears before you — could be broken down into smaller steps, different solutions could be tried, other parents could be consulted. It is undoubtedly my innate connection that caused me to care about the solutions and try to do the best for them, but I never received a manual transmitted through DNA.
This, in part, is what makes the social isolation of this pandemic so difficult. I don’t have parental 360 future-vision to know what are the best ways for my kids to spend their time. I don’t know how they’re feeling unless they tell me or display their emotions in some way and then I can examine the evidence and work backward, Gil Grissom-style, until I can fix, alleviate, or at least acknowledge and sit with whatever they’re feeling. I don’t know the long-term effects of the way my daughter freezes up and backs away at the sight of another human at any distance. I don’t have the answers to when we’re going to get to visit Grandma again or if our Disney World trip will be rescheduled. I don’t know how they will recover socially or scholastically.
Both my husband and I work, now from home, with no childcare. We do a complicated dance of who needs to concentrate when and for how long and how much tablet time we can allow our children to have before the guilt overwhelms us. We are both extremely lucky and thankful to have jobs during this, and surely some of that thankfulness is manifesting itself in the desire to be the best WFH employee possible which includes knowing when to hold ‘em (the kids) and when to fold ‘em (fold up my emotions and concentrate). We don’t have elaborate homeschool schedules. Our three- and five-year-olds aren’t going to emerge from the quarantine speaking a new language or understanding Euclidian calculus. We’re holding on by overly washed hands and Amazon Fire tablets.
Occasionally a slowdown in both of our days lines up and we can take the kids outside. Outside is now a terrifying hellscape where an overly friendly neighbor sends me into fight-or-flight, but our kids are bursting with energy and vitamin D which — while it doesn’t cure or prevent Covid-19 — is still a helpful nutrient for humans. We live in the Midwest and ordinarily the first over 50-degree day would be met with hoards of people streaming onto bike trails and into parks and playgrounds all over the city.
But I and my little family take little bike rides around our neighborhood. We’re cautiously cycling far away from neighbors walking on sidewalks, but obviously too close for comfort for many of the neighborhood dogs on high-alert being in charge of guarding their humans now 24/7.
My youngest daughter isn’t into biking yet and prefers her scooter. On one of these neighborhood movement adventures, she took a nasty tumble going downhill and ended up holding a paper towel to her bloody knee in the back of Dad’s bike trailer all the way home.
I’m not the best with blood, so my husband checked in to ask if I’d be okay cleaning up the wound. I said yes with too much enthusiasm.
This was a problem I had within my capacity to fix. I needed this.
I hoisted her up onto the bathroom counter and asked her to wait while I grabbed the first aid kit. With all the stoicism a three-year-old can muster, she sat on the edge of the sink while I washed off her knee. No dramatic sobs, no pleas for a treat as a reward. Just calmly watching my unfolding procedure. Normally under a performance microscope like this, I freeze or tense up under the (real or imagined) pressure to live up to expectations (also real or imagined). But I knew what to do. This was so straight-forward I felt a strange gratitude. Water, wash off the cut, bacitracin, Band-Aid, wash hands, kiss hand, apply kiss to bandaged knee. Thank you, running water. Thank you, bacitracin. I would solve this solvable problem 1,000 times if I could help a few of the huge, unsolvable ones. Wide-eyed but still silent, my daughter hugged me as I picked her up from the countertop next to the sink and stood her back up on the ground. “Feeling okay?” I asked. She nodded and went off to put her helmet away.
I felt so pleased to do one thing, for one shining moment to have within my grasp the knowledge and the tools to fix something. Our Disney World countdown is still up on the wall, frozen from a time when it felt so close we could taste the churros. My mother hasn’t left her house in over a month. There are answers and skills I just don’t have. I can’t make a vaccine or run a ventilator or keep people from demanding their right to cough on their fellow citizens, but I can put a Band-Aid on a boo-boo. I can act calmly and use plain language to explain to my daughter exactly what is happening with her cut as it heals. I can help her proudly show off her battle scar on FaceTime. I can accumulate tiny wins and small slivers of time when I know without a doubt I did the right thing as a parent.
Image: “somewhere” by Nicole Monroe